18 October 2022 – Today I learned:
A bunch of interesting things about Maine birds, especially those in southern Maine.
Nick Lund, Advocacy & Outreach Manager at Maine Audubon in Falmouth, Maine, gave a lecture in person at Laudholm Farm and on Zoom, which I was able to watch from home tonight, and it was packed with interesting lists, facts, anecdotes, and banter about birds. His most recent book (April 2022) is The American Birding Association Field Guide to Birds of Maine. Most of the photos here were slides in Lund’s presentation.
I tuned in a little late but when I did he was listing the five most common birds in Maine, which are Song Sparrow, Herring Gull, American Goldfinch (which does not migrate), Black-capped Chickadee (there’s also a Boreal Chickadee in northern Maine), and the most common, American Crow, whose cousins the Fish Crow and the Common Raven also spend time in Maine. I learned that if a birder can only see a crow but not hear it and is sure it’s a Fish Crow, walk away; the Fish Crow and American Crow look identical and can only be distinguished by their calls (the Fish Crow’s is an “uh-uh,” voiced like a toddler rejecting something). Speaking of calls, the Goldfinch calls constantly while flying, so if you learn its flight call — which sounds like “potato chip, potato chip,” you’ll always know when they’re around. Chickadees know their own territories so well, and other birds are somehow aware of this, that when you hear a chickadee, listen and look for migrating birds trailing along with it.
I learned that I need to visit the wastewater treatment plant (the “lagoons”) in Sanford, Maine, where 252 species have been spotted, including the Ruddy Duck and the Common Gallinule.
I learned that 233 species have been recorded by birders at the Isle of Shoals, a group of islands on the Maine/New Hampshire border, and that on Appledore Island a hybrid of a Herring Gull and a Lesser Black-backed Gull appeared in 2007 (I think?), now called by some an Appledore Gull. These gulls were banded and have been found “vacationing” in Florida, just like other Mainers. (9-pp PDF research report on the hybrid gull here.) What’s really interesting about this is that “Lesser Black-backed Gulls do not breed in North America, at least not outside of Greenland. They typically nest in northern and western Europe, though their breeding range has expanded significantly in recent years, reaching Greenland in 1990. Their winter range has grown too; Lesser Black-backeds now frequently overwinter in the United States.” (source: “A celebrity Lesser Black-backed Gull” by Mary Caswell Stoddard, 2 Oct 2018, Birdwatching)
Lund also listed Five Laudholm Farm rarities. Laudholm (at Wells Reserve in Wells, Maine) is a spot we often visit, lately every couple of months for a day or two. It’s great birding habitat because it’s coastal, with a sandy beach, and it also has woods, open fields, and lots of edges.
The birds Lund named are Hooded Warbler (recorded May 2018), which probably just overshot its migration route; Connecticut Warbler (28 Sept 2019 at about 6 a.m.) — coincidentally, Merlin’s sound app has heard one several times around our house here in NH lately; Scissortail Flycatcher (June 2014, around noon), which is a southwest U.S. bird (Oklahoma’s state bird); Little Egret (July 2021 around 3 p.m.), which lives in Europe and Africa and must have been blown off course; and White-Winged Tern (June 2003 at 5 p.m.), another European bird, the Old World counterpart of our (rare in Maine) black tern.
Last, Lund listed Six of Maine’s Rarest Birds: Atlantic Puffin — Maine has the only breeding population in the U.S., on offshore islands; Bicknell’s Thrush, which breeds at the treeline (on the mountaintops) of high-elevation coniferous forests of the Appalachians in northern New England, in the Adirondacks, and in southeastern Canada; Piping Plover, which is camouflaged for sand and whose numbers have plummeted since humans (and dogs and vehicles) began overusing the sandy beaches — this is a bird I’ve seen many times, in coastal Maine, on Cape Cod, and on Jekyll Island, GA; and three vagrants (birds out of their normal territory): Tufted Puffin, usually a Pacific Ocean bird, but because of ice melting in the north, there is now more interchange between Pacific and Atlantic birds; Great Black Hawk, which lives in south Mexico into Central America and until 2018, when it was seen in Texas and then again in Biddeford Pool, Maine, had never been seen in the U.S. at all; it ended up living in Deering Oaks Park in Portland, ME, where it died over the winter of frostbite (though Avian Haven tried to save it); and last, the famous Steller’s Sea Eagle, which has a total population of about 4,000 birds and lives in Siberia, Korea, Japan, but at the end of last year (during the Christmas Bird Count) it was seen in Taunton River, Mass., and then in January it relocated to tiny Five Islands (Georgetown) Maine. This bird is actually well-suited to the cold, so it might be fine here. It spent the summer in Newfoundland and many think it will return to our neck of the woods/ocean for the winter again. Lund has written about this bird at Audubon.
It’s amazing how much you can learn — or at least start to learn, or get an inkling of how much there is to learn — in an hour.
Featured image: Piping plover at Pine Point, Scarborough, ME, June 2014.